Digital divide narrows, but 1.1m UK homes and businesses cannot get decent broadband

15 December 2017

Around one million homes and offices still cannot get a decent broadband connection, though coverage is steadily improving.

This is according to Ofcom’s Connected Nations 2017 report – an in-depth look at communications networks in the UK and its nations. This year’s report outlines progress on the availability and take-up of broadband and mobile services, which are crucial to people’s personal and working lives.

But Ofcom is concerned that around 1.1 million homes and offices, or 4% of properties, still cannot get the broadband speeds needed to meet  their typical needs. This is currently defined as broadband offering a download speed of at least 10 Mbit/s, with an upload speed of at least 1 Mbit/s – although we expect these needs to increase over time. The figure has fallen from 1.6 million premises last year.

Today’s report shows broadband speeds and access remain worse in rural areas, where properties are often situated a long way from the telephone exchange or local street cabinet. Around 17% of rural premises are not getting decent broadband services, compared to just 2% in urban areas.

Ofcom is supporting the UK Government’s plans for universal broadband, so homes and businesses across the country – including in rural and remote areas – have the right to request a broadband connection with a download speed of at least 10 Mbit/s, and an upload speed of at least 1 Mbit/s.

‘Superfast’ available to more than 90% of premises but bought by less than four in ten

Access to superfast broadband – defined by Ofcom as a download speed of 30 Mbit/s or more – continues to improve. The option of taking superfast broadband was available to 91% of UK homes and small businesses (27 million) by May 2017, up from 89% (25.5 million) a year earlier.

And more people are taking advantage of this, reflecting a growing demand for faster speeds. Four in ten premises have bought connections that deliver superfast broadband, up from less than a third a year earlier.

However, ‘full fibre’ broadband – where fibre optic cables are used all the way to the property – is only available to 3% of homes and offices, up from 2% a year earlier. We expect this figure to grow in the next few years as a number of network operators have announced plans to build new networks.

For more information on what the report’s findings mean for you, see our guide for consumers (PDF, 1.8 MB).

Steve Unger, Chief Technology Officer at Ofcom, said: “Broadband coverage is improving, but our findings show there’s still urgent work required before people and businesses get the services they need.

“Everyone should have good access to the internet, wherever they live and work. So we are supporting plans for universal broadband, and promoting investment in full-fibre technology that can provide ultrafast, reliable connections.”

People can check whether their mobile reception and home broadband connections are working as well as they could, using our improved ‘app’ for smartphones and tablets, launched today.

The Ofcom Mobile and Broadband Checker checks the performance of mobile reception and If the app finds a problem with either, it will explain possible causes and provide practical troubleshooting advice. It also allows people to find out the strength of signal offered by different providers in certain areas – helping them to choose the mobile provider that meets their needs.

Find out more about our checker app.

Our updated coverage data shows nearly six in ten premises can receive an indoor 4G mobile signal from all four networks, up from 40% last year. But too many people in the UK still struggle to get a decent signal – particularly in rural areas and on roads and railways.

‘Total’ geographic 4G coverage, where a signal is available from all four mobile operators, is available across just 43% of the UK. For calls and text messaging, 30% of the UK’s geography does not receive a signal from all four operators – down from 37% last year.

While these figures show improvements, we are calling for further investment from mobile providers to improve coverage.

Steve Unger added: “With all the technological advancements we’ve seen in recent years, people shouldn’t have to second guess where they can and can’t get decent mobile reception. The public and our economy depend on mobile coverage that allows people to call, text or get online wherever they are. So we need to see mobile companies step up and prioritise improving coverage across the UK.”